Fernandina Island’s La Cumbre Volcano Erupts… again!
Our planet is incredibly dynamic, and part of its vast beauty is the result of volcanic activity. Many places have gone through massive exposure to volcanic activity and the Galapagos Islands are no exception. You might even recall hearing about eruptions in Galapagos over at: Wolf Volcano, Sierra Negra Volcano, and certainly Fernandina Island. For over twenty years, the western side of the archipelago has been an active area of volcanic activity.
Lava Ahoy! Discovering Fernandina Island’s Volcanic Eruption 2018 in Galapagos
During our regular morning program at Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela Island, Yacht La Pinta finished picking up all snorkelers, weighed anchor, and started sailing out from its usual visitor spot on this day. One of our crew members, Mr. Diego Segura, informed our Captain that unusual clouds were shrouding the northeastern flank of Fernandina Island. Captain Patricio Villacís, Expedition Leader Daniel Muñoz, and the rest of our Deck Officers used binoculars to get a better sense of what was happening and then confirmed that, at around 10 a.m., an eruptive process was currently underway over on Fernandina Island. The vessel changed course and headed for the site with a journey that traversed a little over 15 nautical miles.
According to the height of the eruptive cloud above the exact location of the event, it was forecasted that lava flows were moving fast and they were heading to the nearby shoreline.
Shield-island volcanos (a.k.a. insular volcanoes) behave very different from stratovolcanos in the mainland. One essential difference between the two is that eruptions from insular volcanoes are not extremely violent and explosive. Insular volcanoes also have no central conduit to expel all of the material at once. Lately, we’ve all seen incredible footage from Hawaii’s Kilauea eruption, which is actually very similar to what is happening now on Fernandina Island. One big difference though is that Fernandina is an uninhabited island of the Galapagos.
A phenomenon known as tumescence is what serves as the geomechanical force that prevents these volcanoes from erupting in an explosive way. As its magma chamber fills up, the injection of magma creates a degree of swelling along its upper crust, which gives way to plenty of seismic activity. Such a seismic murmur underneath the crust is evidence that the volcano is changing its “internal anatomy,” so to speak. As pressure builds up within, a very weak and fragile point will give way and magma will come oozing out from deep within the chamber. One could compare it to boiling water inside of a pressure cooker finding a valve that allows it to gradually dissipate its projectile power. Now if you think that such an eruption is not dangerous, think again! Such an event involves molten rock (at nearly 1,200 oC / 2,190 oF) with plenty of gases dissolved within the matrix. The difference between how we usually see volcanoes lies inside the explosivity of the eruptive event and, quite naturally, in the chemistry of its different volcanic products.
As expected, a little past 11h30 on Saturday (June 16th, 2018) was when the hot molten rock reached the ocean and produced a giant cloud of water vapor. The pictures here allow you to see this all very clearly. It’s often the case that, when people see an eruption like this, they often think that the actual eruption is occurring right at the shoreline, when in reality the site of the actual eruption is about 15-20 miles inland. On this day special, our vessel remained a safe distance away from the shore, allowing guests to witness this spectacular eruption during the daytime. By the time of this writing, loads of lava have been discharged from the fissure on the volcano and it is hard to conceive of just how much material has actually come out. As the day comes to an end and darkness sets in, the greatest of natural fireworks will light up the skies and make the spectacle even more surreal than it originally was. We often think of the evolutionary power of the islands, yet an eruption of such colossal force serves as a trule example of what other things in nature remain completely unstoppable.
The afternoon program for Yacht La Pinta continued at over Punta Espinoza (Fernandina Island), without any interruptions whatsoever. Guests were thrilled to see, feel and be a part of an island that, off in the distance, had a fissure erupting with unabated fury. As the eruption went on, there’s no doubt that plenty of micro-seismic events occurred and went undetected. While exploring Punta Espinoza, our groups found large colonies of marine iguanas sitting calmly next to flightless cormorants, lava lizards, mangroves, lava cacti, and intertidal pools, all of these completely oblivious to the volcanic events happening just around the corner. After this excursion, it was now time to head back to the vessel and witness the unbelievable power of this colossal volcano. As the day ended, not only did guests get to witness beautiful sunset colors, but it gradually seemed like the reds and the oranges from the clouds didn’t change much. Why? The molten lava was being reflected on the low-lying clouds! As total darkness set in, Captain Patricio Villacís re-positioned Yacht La Pinta just a little closer to the eruptive location. Guests could now easily see the radial fissures and plume where lava was oozing out from. Rivers of lava, just like endless fingers, were coming down the side of the volcano in all directions, tainted in vivid oranges, yellows, and deep reds. We probably spent about three hours on the deck in absolute awe, and in total connection with this natural spectacle. It was like watching nature’s best movie, and the plot felt endless.
We don’t know how long this new eruption will last for. It might be a week or it might be a month. It’s impossible to say when it’ll stop and we won’t even dare speculate about it. We will come here every other week for sure, and each time, we’ll give our luck a go – hopefully we’ll get to see it erupting again and again! Ultimately, however, only the natural forces of this volcano know when to stop.
Technical information about Fernandina Island’s Volcanic Eruption 2018 in Galapagos
Exact island location: Fernandina Island
Geographical location of eruption: North/Northeastern side of Fernandina Island, mid slope, outside caldera floor.
Eruptive location/sites: at least two large, mid-slope radial fissures (about 15 miles / 24 kilometers inland)
Volcanic products: spattering lava along fissure, steep-flowing lava, not too viscous, no evidence (at this point) of parasitic cones being formed, lava entering ocean.
Spotted from: Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela Island
Spotted by: Mr. Diego Segura, Deck Hands Department
Time of first visual confirmation: 10h00
Arrival at eruption site: 11h30
Yacht’s location at the eruption site: LAT 00o 16’ S – LONG 91o 32’ W
Onboard guests informed: via PA system and personal communications, plenty of Geology talks and interpretative explanations on deck.
Weather conditions at the site: calm oceans, mild southern-trade winds, partly sunny.
Air temperature: 25 oC (76 oF)
Water temperature: 22 oC (71 oF)
Water visibility: poor, less than 2 meters (7 feet)
Sulfur-smell presence: Very mild presence (about a mile away from site)
Eruption type: 3 radial fissures (erupting at different levels, southern one was the most active)
Visitor site at the eruption site: None
Nearest visitor site: Punta Espinoza
Island Population: Uninhabited
Fernandina Island’s Volcanic Eruption 2018 in Galapagos REPORTED BY: Mr. Daniel Muñoz, Expedition Leader Yacht La Pinta
PHOTOGRAPHY: Dr. Marcelo Izquierdo, Medical Officer Yacht La Pinta, Mr. Daniel Muñoz, Expedition Leader Yacht La Pinta
MASTER IN COMMAND: Captain Patricio Villacís